Painting a Portrait of Canada: The 2021 Census of Population
4. Topics covered by the 2021 Census

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For the 2021 Census, income information will once again be obtained from personal income tax and benefit data files provided by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), and admission category and applicant type information will be obtained from administrative files provided by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). In 2021, for the first time, immigrant status and year of immigration will also be obtained from administrative files provided by IRCC.

Statistics Canada will continue to use existing administrative data sources to reduce response burden and increase data quality. 

Enumerating usual residents of private dwellings

The majority of Canada’s population resides in private dwellings. For residents of private dwellings, census data are collected primarily by having one adult member of the household respond on behalf of the entire household through self-enumeration using an online form.

The census is the primary source of exhaustive demographic data in Canada. In 2021, the census questionnaire will collect the following information:

Short-form and long-form questionnaire

Most census data are collected using the short-form or long-form questionnaires. In 2021, a sample of 25% of Canadian households will receive a long-form questionnaire.

Short-form questionnaire (forms 2A, 3A, 2C)

Form 2A: This is the short-form questionnaire that is used to enumerate all usual residents of all private dwellings.

Form 3A: This is the short-form questionnaire for individuals (similar to Form 2A), which is used to enumerate one person. It is delivered to usual residents in private dwellings who wish to be enumerated separately from other members of the household (e.g., roomers, lodgers, boarders). It is also used to enumerate residents in some collective dwellings.

Form 2C: This is the short-form questionnaire for people living abroad (similar to Form 2A), which is used to enumerate residents who are temporarily overseas at the time of the census. For 2021, this includes Canadian government employees (federal and provincial) and their families, and members of the Canadian Armed Forces and their families.

Long-form questionnaire (forms 2A-L, 2A-R)

The long-form questionnaire complements the short-form questionnaire and is designed to provide more detailed information on people in Canada according to their demographic, social and economic characteristics.

Form 2A-L: This questionnaire is the most commonly used long-form questionnaire.

Form 2A-R: This questionnaire is similar to Form 2A-L, but is used in northern, remote and reserve areas only. It contains the census long-form questionnaire questions with examples adapted for remote regions and First Nations communities, as well as two additional questions on band housing. For 2021, there is a new question on band housing fees.

Online versus paper questionnaires

There has been greater use of the online census questionnaire since its introduction in 2001. In 2016, only forms 2A and 2A-L were available online. An online census questionnaire was submitted for 68.3% of private dwellings in 2016. For the 2021 Census, forms 2A, 2A-L and 2A-R will be available online. It is expected that more households will submit their census forms online in 2021 in comparison with previous censuses.

The content of the online questionnaire is virtually identical to that of the paper questionnaire, but the online questionnaires have additional features that improve data quality and reduce response burden. The online census questionnaires prefill fields using information provided by the respondent (e.g., names of household members). This reduces the likelihood of one member’s answers being recorded for another person. Automated skip patterns alleviate response burden by skipping questions that are not applicable (more skips have been added for 2021). The long-form questionnaire also has a “stop and finish later” feature that allows respondents to save their questionnaire and return to complete it later. A password is used to retrieve the saved questionnaire.

Online questionnaires also have better response rates for individual questions and higher data quality because respondents are prompted when invalid data are entered or if data are missing. The online forms also have help information available for respondents who want additional information on a census question.

2021 Census questionnaire content

New content

The 2021 Census includes new content to address emerging trends and issues. The new question topics are listed below.

Other changes

In addition to new content, revisions were made to some returning content from 2016 (and 2011, in the case of religion) to improve relevance and data quality, as well as to address content issues that surfaced during the 2016 Census.

Some 2016 content is no longer required for the 2021 Census. In 2017, the federal government amended the Statistics Act (Bill C-36) to render census records public 92 years after collection. This eliminated a 2016 question that asked respondents for permission to send their data to Library and Archives Canada. The 2016 Census also included content on farm operators that is no longer required by the Census of Agriculture.

2021 Census questionnaire details

1. Address and names of usual residents

The goal of the census is to enumerate the entire population of Canada at a fixed point in time. The census questionnaire includes questions and instructions to determine the person’s sole or main residence. This location is then used in all data products by geographic area. It is also used to identify people who live together in the same dwelling—an important aspect of census data.

Returning content from 2016


The address fields on the 2021 Census paper questionnaire will be slightly different from those on the 2016 Census questionnaire. The email address field has been removed from the paper questionnaire, although it remains on the online questionnaire.

The email address field was removed from the paper questionnaire because the paper questionnaire data captured in 2016 showed unacceptable error rates in optical character recognition. There is no real way to correct these errors other than by using universal manual data capture, which is cost prohibitive.

The space freed up by removing the email question was used to lengthen the civic number and suffix field and the apartment field.

Results of the 2019 Census Test indicated that the changes tested well.

Coverage (usual residents)

It is extremely important to minimize coverage errors (both undercoverage and overcoverage) in the census. The coverage section of the census questionnaire is designed to help Canadians correctly enumerate themselves during self-response. It starts by asking the respondent to enter the number of people staying at that address on Census Day and to list them by providing their first and last names.

Next, a few questions are used to clarify any ambiguous situations (e.g., individuals who are staying at the address temporarily, residents of another country who are visiting or government representatives of another country). There is also a question on whether the respondent left out anyone because they were not sure if that person should be included. In the online questionnaire, follow-up questions are then used to help the respondent determine whether the person in doubt should be included. These follow-up questions ask about the situation of the person (e.g., a student, a child in joint custody, a person who has one or more other residences). The decision whether to include the person is based on the situation of the person and the answers provided to the follow-up questions.

New coverage content

To test further improvements to the coverage section in the online questionnaire, four changes were tested during the 2019 Census Test.

The first change is that when a respondent goes back into the questionnaire and changes their answer to reduce the household size, an open-ended question asking for the reason will now be asked. This change will allow for the characteristics of the people dropped to be evaluated and for a follow-up to be conducted with these households to help reduce undercoverage.

The second change is for when a respondent indicates that at least one person listed is a resident of another country visiting Canada. A new subquestion will be asked to clarify whether that person is in-scope for the census (e.g., holder of a work or study permit). In past census cycles, these persons were all deemed out-of-scope unless clarification was obtained through a follow-up. Results from the census test show that this question helps the respondent determine who to include and reduces the number of necessary follow-ups.

The third change is a new question asking whether a respondent has listed someone they are not sure should be included (in addition to the existing question asking whether they did not list someone because they were unsure). The goal is to use this new question and subsequent subquestions to properly determine the in-scope status of people already listed and to reduce overcoverage. According to the results of the census test, this additional question will help reduce overcoverage.

The fourth change is to the order of the categories for the situation of the person. This question is triggered only when a respondent indicates that they are unsure about including or excluding a person. The list of categories was updated according to the frequencies observed in the last census. It now starts with the most common categories. Additionally, a new category of “foster child” was added, as it was one of the most frequent write-ins in the “other—specify” category in the last census. This change reduces the number of instances where respondents select “other—specify.” Results of the census test showed a decrease in these cases, which in turn decreased the number of necessary follow-ups.

Following the analysis of the census test results, a recommendation was made to adopt all four changes for the coverage section of the 2021 Census online questionnaire.

2. Demographic concepts

Demography content is essential to enumerate the population and provide population counts that form the base of the Demographic Estimates Program. The census counts and demographic estimates are used to calculate federal–provincial fiscal transfers and are required by more than 30 acts and 25 statutes and regulations. Demography content on the questionnaire includes questions on sex at birth, gender and family status. These data are essential for gender-based analyses and to determine the living arrangements of Canadians, as well as their family size and composition. This information can be used to determine societal changes in family structure. For example, the census is the only national source of data on foster children. The census demographic and family status data are vital to the national statistical infrastructure, as they are used as a benchmark in other Statistics Canada surveys (e.g., the Labour Force Survey [LFS]) and by other survey organizations.

New demography content

In June 2017, Bill C-16 was passed by parliament, adding gender expression and identity as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. In 2018, the federal budget allocated funds for the creation of the Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics, placing an emphasis on the need for data on the non-binary and transgender population.

In the 2016 Census and in other Statistics Canada surveys, some Canadians expressed dissatisfaction with the question on sex, which gave people only two response options: male and female.

As a result, Statistics Canada released a revised sex at birth variable and a new gender variable and classification in April 2018 to better reflect how Canadians describe themselves and address information gaps on Canada’s transgender population (including the non-binary population) while maintaining the same high quality standards and historical comparability of the data.

The revised sex at birth variable and the new gender variable are consistent with the Government of Canada’s direction to modernize sex and gender information practices.

Sex at birth and gender are distinct concepts, but they are interrelated. Sex at birth refers to physical attributes, while gender is a multidimensional concept that has psychological, social and behavioural aspects. Gender is a reflection of how individuals describe themselves at the time of the survey (e.g., as a man, woman or non-binary), and it can change over time.

Testing results

The 2019 Census Test involved a two-step approach with the goal of measuring the transgender and non-binary population in Canada. Two questions were tested: “What was this person’s sex at birth?” and “What is this person’s gender?” The sex at birth question included two response categories: male and female. The gender question included three response categories: male, female and please specify (an open-ended category that allowed respondents to indicate the gender they identify as). The two questions were asked one after the other. This will allow Statistics Canada to address the data gap on the transgender and non-binary population while maintaining some continuity of the time series.

The questions tested well and provided plausible, consistent results. The results of the 2019 Census Test were compared with results from a national survey conducted by Statistics Canada in which the two-question approach was also implemented. The results were also compared with other data sources, including scientific studies and results from other countries.

Demography content returning from 2016

In an effort to simplify the question on the relationship to Person 1, the references to same-sex and opposite-sex relationships were removed from the answer categories. No information will be lost and the census will continue to produce statistics on same-sex and different-sex couples. Testing showed that this will not affect the historical comparability of the number of same-sex and different-sex couples.

3. Language

The three language questions (knowledge of official languages, languages spoken at home, mother tongue) provide information to better understand the current status and evolution of Canada’s various language groups (including official languages, Indigenous languages and immigrant languages). This information is critical for many data users, such as governments (federal, provincial, territorial, municipal), organizations that represent official language minority communities and school boards, that need to fulfill a large number of data needs, for example, to estimate the need for services in English and French or to support legislation (e.g., parts IV and VII of the Official Languages Act, paragraph 23(1)a of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or Quebec’s Charte de la langue française).

Language content returning from 2016

The questions on knowledge of official languages and mother tongue from 2016 will return in 2021 with no revisions.

Languages spoken at home

The 2016 language content will return with minor changes to the question on languages spoken at home to reduce response burden and improve data quality. In 2016, respondents were asked what languages they spoke most often at home, followed by a question on the other languages spoken on a regular basis at home. The vast majority of individuals speak only one language at home, but all respondents had to answer both questions. To alleviate response burden and increase data quality regarding multiple responses for these individuals in 2021, the order of the questions will be reversed—the first question will ask about all languages spoken regularly at home and the question on the language spoken most often at home will be asked only to respondents who report speaking more than one language regularly at home. This change does not affect the concepts measured. The same change has been made to the question on languages used at work. This change tested well in the 2019 Census Test.

Mother tongue

In addition to these changes, two alternative versions of the question on the language first learned at home in childhood and still understood were also tested following recommendations made in the report on minority language rights-holders tabled in parliament in 2017 by the Standing Committee on Official Languages. The report suggests that the current census question on the language first learned at home in childhood and still understood underestimates official language minorities because the question does not mention that multiple responses are allowed. The two test versions of the question included a note on the conditions under which respondents should provide more than one language. In both cases, the 2019 Census Test revealed an increase in multiple responses for official language minorities, mostly at the expense of minority language single responses. Overall, the test did not show a statistically significant increase in the total number of people with English in Quebec or French outside Quebec as their first language learned at home in childhood and still understood, compared with the 2016 version of the question. For this reason, and given that comparability would be affected with no clear improvement in data quality, the 2016 question will be returning in 2021.

4. Minority language educational rights

User need for new content

For the first time, the Census of Population will collect in 2021 data on rights-holders’ children as per section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms establishes the rights of citizens of Canada to have their children educated in their first official language. The 2017 report from the Standing Committee on Official Languages on issues related to identifying minority language rights-holders highlighted the importance of having accurate information on rights-holders to ensure the vitality of official language minority communities. The issue of estimating the number of children whose parents have the constitutional right to send them to an official language minority school is important because this right to an education in one’s first official language is conditional upon numbers warranting it.

Statistics Canada has developed a robust three-pronged strategy that will form a strong data ecosystem on minority rights-holders in Canada. This strategy includes the integration of data on rights-holders from the 2021 Census with information on parents’ intentions from the 2021 postcensal survey and information on annual school enrolment from provinces and territories

Statistics Canada has conducted extensive qualitative and quantitative testing in collaboration with its expert Advisory Committee on Language Statistics to determine how to best measure the number of children of minority language rights-holders in Canada in a way that provides information for minority rights-holders to exercise their right to an education in the minority language.

Five new questions related to language of instruction were tested to complement the information obtained from the question on the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood. Two different placements of the questions were tested: within the same section as the language questions on the short form (knowledge of official languages, languages spoken at home and mother tongue) and immediately before the education questions on the long form.

Testing results

Qualitative testing showed that the first versions of the questions were not always well understood by respondents, in particular with regard to type of instruction and program differences between provinces and territories. Following qualitative testing, questions were improved, in collaboration with members of Statistics Canada’s Advisory Committee on Language Statistics, to ensure they were measuring what was intended. Quantitative testing in 2019 showed that, regardless of where the questions were placed on the questionnaire, they yielded similar estimates, which indicates that respondents had a consistent understanding across different test panels. However, when these questions were grouped with education questions, the new questions on minority language rights-holders had an impact on the education questions.

The five new questions on minority language rights-holders that were added to the 2021 Census, along with the existing question on mother tongue will generate high-quality data on the population of children of rights-holders.

In addition, Statistics Canada has developed a robust three-pronged strategy that will form a strong data ecosystem on minority rights-holders in Canada. This strategy includes the integration of data on rights-holders from the 2021 Census with information on parents’ intentions from the 2021 postcensal survey and information on annual school enrolment from provinces and territories.

Statistics Canada will use its methods to produce the three sets of numbers necessary for decision making on rights-holders as defined by the courts. This includes the maximum number of children eligible at the municipal level, the minimum number of children of rights-holders, including those currently registered in a minority school, and the estimated number and proportion of children whose parents intend to exercise their right to have them attend a minority language school.

5. Veteran and military service

User need for new content

The federal government spends over $4 billion annually in payments to Veterans, their families and other program recipients. Yet, in Canada, there is no comprehensive data source available that provides a complete listing of Veterans to ensure that these funds are targeted to those who are eligible. The historical records that are available consist of census records from 1951, 1961, 1971, as well as a variety of incomplete administrative data. To fill this data gap, a question on Veteran and military service was included on the questionnaire to enumerate the total number of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Veterans living in Canada. The Census questionnaire is the best tool to reach all Veterans and military personnel, as it enumerates residents of collective dwellings, including military bases, as well as hospitals and seniors’ residences, where Veterans may reside. The questionnaire is also used to enumerate residents who are residing overseas temporarily at the time of the census, including CAF members and their families. Having highly reliable information on Veterans will provide meaningful insight into a broad number of policy, program and evaluation issues that affect the Veteran population. Statistics Canada and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) will work together after the 2021 Census to keep this information up to date.

Testing results

The question on Veteran and military service tested well. Results from the 2019 Census Test were compared with external sources. The proportion of respondents who reported being Veterans was within the range of what was estimated by VAC using a data modelling approach based on 1971 Census data and administrative data, the proportions of male and female CAF Veterans, and their average age.

6. Income

As was done for the 2016 Census, Statistics Canada will inform 2021 Census respondents that their earnings and income information will be retrieved from personal income tax and benefits files provided by the CRA. This use of administrative data provides better-quality, detailed information for small communities and populations and reduces program costs and response burden on Canadians. The census income and earnings data are used to develop and monitor the use and impact of income support programs. Businesses use income data in combination with other sociodemographic statistics to locate stores and develop new products and services. Private-sector and public-sector researchers use earnings information to study labour markets and industry patterns. These data provide income and earnings information on subpopulations (e.g., low-income families) and particularly vulnerable groups (e.g., Indigenous peoples, population groups and immigrants) at low levels of geography, as well as on the on-reserve First Nations population.

The income content for the 2021 Census will be similar to that of the 2016 Census.

7. Language

The question on knowledge of non-official languages complements the information on the linguistic diversity of Canadians by providing information on knowledge of languages other than French or English. This question—along with others—is used to track the acquisition of Indigenous languages as a second language or to estimate the acquisition of a second language other than an official language by the population. This question is a key indicator for federal, provincial and territorial programs that support the preservation and revitalization of Indigenous languages. The proposed question on knowledge of non-official languages remains unchanged from 2016.

The question about languages used at work provides important information on the use of languages outside the home, particularly in regions where many language groups coexist. This information fulfills a number of data needs, including supporting legislation (e.g., Quebec’s Charte de la langue française and Part V of the federal government’s Official Languages Act). Furthermore, federal, provincial and territorial governments use this information to analyze the business-related use of non-official languages in a global economy. These data are also used by researchers, analysts and all levels of government to monitor and analyze the socioeconomic integration of immigrants in Canada.

Languages used at work

The language content of the 2016 Census questionnaire will be returning with only minor changes to the questions on languages used at work (similar to the change made to the question on languages spoken at home) to reduce response burden. In 2016, respondents were asked to report what language they use most often at work, followed by a question on the other languages they use on a regular basis at work. The majority of workers use only one language at work, but all respondents have to answer both questions. To reduce response burden in 2021, the order of the questions was reversed. First, the question on languages used at work on a regular basis is asked, then the question on language used most often at work is asked only to those who reported using more than one language. As was the case for languages spoken at home, this change does not impact the census concepts. This change tested well in the 2019 Census Test.

8. Activities of daily living

User need

Difficulties with activities of daily living and disability information are used to develop legislation, policies and programs. This information is also referred to when reporting to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and supports the federal Employment Equity Act. It will also be used to monitor the new Accessible Canada Act.

Non-governmental organizations rely on this information to provide support to caregivers, carry out advocacy work and set priorities. This question remains essential for conducting a follow-up survey of persons with disabilities because it is the only data source available for this purpose.

This content is returning from 2016 with a minor change to the instructional text.

9. Immigration and citizenship

Along with the information on a person’s place of birth, the place of birth of their parents (used to derive generation status), Canadian citizenship status and other countries of citizenship, the census also measures variables related to immigrant status, year of immigration and immigrant admission category (e.g., economic immigrant, refugee, sponsored family). As in 2016, Statistics Canada will collect admission category and applicant type information from administrative files provided by IRCC.

In 2021, for the first time, immigrant status and year of immigration will be obtained from administrative files provided by IRCC. Information on immigration and citizenship is required by IRCC, as well as by provincial and territorial immigration departments, to develop and monitor immigration policies and programs. It is used in support of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Citizenship Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canadian Multiculturalism Act. These data provide vital information to help understand the living conditions and socioeconomic outcomes of immigrants and their children in Canada.

Changes to returning content


The 2016 citizenship question will be changed to a two-part question in 2021 to improve data quality. The 2021 version collects the same information as the 2016 version, but asks the question in two parts to clarify the two main concepts measured: Canadian citizenship status and other countries of citizenship. The format of the 2016 question—select all that apply—encouraged more single responses and may not have been clear for some respondents. The results of the 2019 Census Test indicate improved overall data quality for the updated citizenship question, particularly for key measures such as Canadian citizenship status, which is essential for deriving immigrant status and multiple citizenships.

Place of birth of parents

The question on the place of birth of parents is used to determine the country in which each of the respondent’s parents was born. The main purpose of this question is to derive the generation status of the respondent and establish whether the person is in the first, second, or third generation or more. Generation status provides information on the diversity of Canada’s population and makes it possible to study how the children of immigrants (second generation) are integrating into Canadian society.

The 2021 version of this question will no longer include the terms “father” and “mother” to make the question more inclusive of different family types and reduce response burden. In addition, the recommendations for the 2020 Censuses of Population and Housing from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe indicate that the term “parent” should refer to the legal parent rather than the biological parent. The results of the 2019 Census Test indicate that the change to the question produces similar results for key measures such as generation status.

10. Ethnocultural diversity

The ethnocultural diversity content of the census consists of questions on ethnic or cultural origins, population groups, and religion. These questions reflect the longstanding and widespread demand for information about the origins and diversity of Canada’s population, as well as the need to provide information on the population groups designated as visible minorities in support of the Employment Equity Act. Furthermore, the data are used to inform federal multiculturalism programs and policies and support the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act. This information is also used by various community organizations, such as religious denominations and cultural associations.

Ethnocultural diversity content returning from 2016 and 2011

Some changes were made to the content returning for the 2021 Census.

Ethnic origin

Ethnic origin is a complex topic with changes in responses over time because of changes in how respondents perceive their background. Various factors can influence responses over time, such as a respondent’s knowledge of their family history.

In previous censuses, respondents were provided with examples to help them answer the ethnic or cultural origins question. A long-established methodology, based on the most frequently reported ethnic and cultural groups of the past census, was used to choose which examples would appear on the questionnaire. Statistics Canada released a technical report in July 2019Note 1 that demonstrated—in detail—the resulting bias associated with examples on the ethnic origin question, particularly for those of Jewish and Canadian origin. The approach for 2021 is to not provide a preselected list of examples of ethnic or cultural origins within the question. It is anticipated that 76% of respondents will complete the census online, so the question will provide a direct link to a comprehensive list of examples of origins to which respondents can quickly refer. The link will also appear on the paper questionnaire.

The results of the 2019 Census Test are in line with what was shown in Statistics Canada’s technical report—examples in the question itself have a significant prompt effect regardless of whether they are presented in a list beside the question or within an explanation. This was generally the case for origins tested as examples, including Canadian and Jewish. 

The 2021 version that was tested without examples in the question, but with an extensive list of examples in a linked list along with an explanation of types of responses, yielded more varied and diverse responses and did not introduce the bias that was found in the versions with examples listed in the question itself.


In the census, religion refers to a person’s self-identification as having a connection or affiliation with a religious denomination, group, body, sect, or other religiously defined community or system of belief. Religion is not limited to formal membership in a religious organization or group.

Data on religious affiliation help measure the diversity in Canada. They are used by organizations, such as religious congregations, government departments, school boards, researchers and non-profit organizations, to assist in activities, such as planning infrastructure (e.g., religious buildings or schools) and programs for ethnoreligious clients.

The approach for 2021 is to continue to include the same examples on the questionnaire that were used in 2011, as well as to provide a link to a more comprehensive list of examples of denominations and religions to which respondents can quickly refer.

Providing examples of denominations and religions within the question helps by prompting respondents for a certain level of detail in their responses. Without this prompt, responses such as Christian would increase at the expense of responses of various denominations of Christianity (e.g., Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant). This would affect historical comparability for many denominations and make the data less useful to key stakeholders, such as separate school boards and the denominations themselves.

Meanwhile, providing a link to a more comprehensive list of examples of denominations and religions was shown in the 2019 Census Test to prompt respondents to report more detailed responses for both Christian and non-Christian religions, particularly those not included in the list of examples included in the questionnaire. Lastly, because people typically report only one religion, examples will not prompt them to report one religion at the expense of another (unlike with ethnic origin).

11. Population groups

The primary purpose of the population group question is to derive counts for the visible minority population. The term “visible minority” refers to whether a person belongs to a population group designated as a visible minority, as defined by the Employment Equity Act. Data on Canada’s population groups are used by governments, businesses, community groups, health care providers, researchers and a variety of organizations throughout the country to ensure equal opportunities for everyone. The data can also be used by employers to compare the characteristics of their workforce with the characteristics of the population living in the same area.

The wording of the 2021 version of this question will be the same as the 2016 version. This will allow for the visible minority population to be derived in accordance with the Employment Equity Act and, as a result, maintain data quality and historical comparability.

12. First Nations people, Métis and Inuit

These questions can be used to identify Indigenous populations—Indigenous group, Registered or Treaty Indian status, membership in a First Nation or Indian band, membership within a Métis organization or Settlement, and enrolment under an Inuit land claims agreement.

These data can be used to support the programs and policies of First Nations, Métis and Inuit governments and organizations. These data are also used by federal and provincial governments to support evidence-based decision making that benefits First Nations people, Métis and Inuit under land claim and self-government agreements, accords, acts, and treaties. Lastly, these data are used to understand the socioeconomic outcomes of First Nations people, Métis and Inuit.

The 2021 Census includes two new questions for Métis and Inuit to address information gaps. These new questions strengthen the suite of census questions for Indigenous peoples, provide additional detail for the Inuit and Métis populations, and will support emerging policies and programs.

New content

Membership within a Métis organization or Settlement
User need for new content

The 2016 Census did not distinguish between Métis who are citizens or members of a Métis government, Settlement or organization and those who are not. Stakeholder engagement identified this as a valuable addition to the census, particularly in the context of a rapidly growing Métis population and an evolving Métis legal landscape. To address this issue, a new question on membership within a Métis organization or Settlement has been added to the 2021 Census questionnaire. With this new question, it will be possible to differentiate between citizens of Métis governments that have signed the Canada–Métis Nation Accord and Métis individuals outside these entities. Signatories of the Canada–Métis Nation Accord have funding agreements with several federal government departments.

Testing results

There were minimal differences between the two tested versions of the question on respondents who are citizens of Métis governments that have signed the Canada–Métis Nation Accord. The version selected for the census received a broader range of write-in Métis organization data, had lower non-response rates and showed fewer signs of misinterpretation. This version also received fewer inconsistent responses (e.g., names of countries or out-of-scope organizations).

In response to feedback concerning the increased response burden imposed by additional questions for Indigenous populations, only respondents who identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit will be asked this question on the 2021 Census online questionnaire.

Enrolment under an Inuit land claims agreement
User need for new content

The 2016 Census did not collect information on whether respondents were enrolled under—or beneficiaries of—an Inuit land claims agreement. Canada has obligations to Inuit under land claims agreements and data are needed to support evidence-based decision making by both Canadian and Inuit governments and organizations. To address this gap, a new question on enrolment under Inuit land claims agreements has been added.

Testing results

There were no significant differences observed between the two versions tested, and non-response was low. Because the test was not conducted in Inuit Nunangat, the analysis of the results was limited to a small number of respondents who reported being Inuit land claims agreement beneficiaries.

In response to feedback concerning the increased response burden imposed by additional questions for Indigenous populations, only respondents who identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit will be asked this question on the 2021 Census online questionnaire.

Indigenous content returning from 2016

The 2016 Census question on Indigenous (Aboriginal) group asked “Is this person an Aboriginal person, that is, First Nations (North American Indian), Métis or Inuk (Inuit)?” Regional discussions—which included discussions with Indigenous organizations and communities, as well as with national Indigenous organizations—found that Indigenous peoples generally prefer to use a distinctions-based approach (i.e., First Nations, Métis, Inuit) rather than a collective term, such as “Aboriginal” or “Indigenous.” A distinctions-based approach is also consistent with the new fiscal relationship model: nation to nation, government to government and crown to Inuit.

For the Indigenous group question, weighted distributions of responses at the national level were similar between the three versions tested: using the collective term “Aboriginal,” using the collective term “Indigenous,” and using no collective term. Furthermore, estimate differences by province were generally not statistically significant.

13. Mobility (one year and five year)

Mobility data help to understand the internal mobility of Canadians. These data are used to plan postsecondary enrolment and identify areas of growth and decline for infrastructure planning. The questions on this topic are essential determinants of the intercensal population estimates used in the Federal–Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act, as required by Finance Canada. Furthermore, these questions are required by Statistics Canada to assess the overall quality of the census counts and estimate the number of people who were not counted.

There were no revisions made to 2021 Census content returning from 2016.

14. Education

The education questions provide information on the education (e.g., high school, postsecondary), field and location of study, and recent school attendance of residents of Canada.

This information—coupled with other information, such as labour market status, income and ethnocultural variables—is widely used by federal departments (e.g., Employment and Social Development Canada [ESDC], IRCC, Indigenous Services Canada [ISC]), provincial and territorial governments, school boards, educational institutions, and researchers for labour market analysis and education planning. At the federal level, education data are used by ESDC for policy and program development around skills development and the labour market and for programs such as the Canada Student Loans Program. Education data are fundamental for studies on key groups of policy interest, such as immigrants, First Nations people, Métis, Inuit, population groups and official language minorities. For example, ESDC and IRCC use education data to assess the labour market outcomes of immigrants, especially those with a postsecondary education. Information on major fields of study can be used to help understand the supply of skills in particular areas of the Canadian labour market and the occupations of people with different fields of study. Data on location of study allow for an analysis of the integration of immigrants with foreign credentials into the Canadian labour market.

Education content returning from 2016

The 2021 education content will be similar to the 2016 content. The main change made was an improvement to the school attendance question to increase data quality and reduce response burden. This was achieved by splitting the question into two parts (with the second part answered only by those who had attended school recently) and by modifying the wording to further clarify the reference period. This will help improve data quality, especially among older Canadians.

In addition, modifications were made to the instructional text for the questions on educational credentials to make it clear that foreign credentials should also be reported. In the instructional text for the high school question on the French questionnaire, the examples of high school equivalency certificates were improved. Furthermore, changes to the online questionnaire allowed for respondents to provide more detailed responses to the major field of study question. This will increase data quality for this variable.

15. Labour market information

The labour questions are used to determine the labour market status of Canadians. They provide information on whether Canadians are employed, unemployed or not in the labour force. Employment information, along with other census content, is used to assess the economic conditions of communities and vulnerable populations such as youth, Indigenous peoples, population groups, immigrants and official language minorities. Detailed industry and occupation data for small geographic areas—available only through the census—are required to assess changing skill needs and shortages, which is a key priority for all levels of government. At the federal level, labour information supports programs and policies related to the Employment Equity Regulations and Employment Insurance Regulations. Industry and occupation data obtained through the census are used to update Statistics Canada classifications (North American Industry Classification System and National Occupation Classification) and are vital to the relevance of the information produced by Statistics Canada through its survey programs. The questions on employment activities provide information on labour market participants, particularly whether they work full time or part time; whether they work full year or only part of the year; and whether they are employees, self-employed or unpaid family workers.

The 2021 Census will contain two new labour questions.

New labour content

Canada’s labour market is changing. The extent to which this is affecting individual Canadians and the broader society and economy is not well understood. To better capture labour market trends and their impact on employment quality and labour market attachment—such as underemployment and involuntary part-time work, especially among vulnerable populations—new questions will be added to the 2021 Census questionnaire, including reasons for working part time only and reasons for not working full year. These questions will provide information on precarious work for subpopulations—such as low-income families and particularly vulnerable groups, such as Indigenous peoples, population groups and immigrants—at low levels of geography, as well as for the on-reserve First Nations population.

According to the results of the 2019 Census Test, the two new questions performed well and produced good-quality data.

Labour content returning from 2016

Two important revisions to labour questions returning from 2016 were made for the 2021 Census. The first was to the question on class of worker to harmonize it with the LFS question. The second change was to the question on the number of weeks worked during the previous year to clarify that it includes paid vacation.

Minor changes were also made to other labour questions to update examples and instructions, such as adding the term “digital” and streamlining the text.

Results from the 2019 Census Test yielded the expected results—the results of the revised class of worker question were more comparable to the LFS than to the 2016 version of the question, and the proportion of respondents who reported working full year (49 to 52 weeks) increased significantly in the revised version of the question compared with the 2016 version, indicating that fewer respondents included paid vacation when answering the 2016 version of the question.

According to the results of the 2019 Census Test, the minor revisions made to the content did not negatively impact the results.

16. Commuting

Commuting data support numerous federal, provincial and municipal programs related to infrastructure and public transportation and are used to measure Canada’s sustainable development and environmental goals related to commuting. The census is the only national source of data on commuting, including data on mode of commuting, distance to work, time leaving for work and commuting time.

New content

Multiple modes of transportation

Previous censuses collected only respondents’ main mode of commuting. Many stakeholders, including municipalities and transit associations, stated that many commuters use more than one mode of transportation to get to work, on a daily or regular basis (e.g., walk and bus, car and bike, car and bus). To fill this gap, the 2021 Census questionnaire includes a new question on multiple modes of transportation. The 2016 question about main mode of transportation will remain to retain comparability.

According to the results of the 2019 Census Test, the new question performed well and produced good-quality data. The data collected for main mode of commuting also remained comparable with previous census data. This indicates that the new question on multiple modes of transportation that preceded it did not negatively impact the results.

Commuting content returning from 2016

In 2021, only people who are employed during the census reference week will be asked the questions on commuting. People recently in the labour force but not currently employed will now be excluded. This change will reduce response burden for a population for which the census did not disseminate commuting data.

There are also slight wording changes to some returning questions on commuting (working from home, address information, number of people sharing a ride to work, time leaving for work, commute duration). For example, the question on vehicle occupancy was revised to clarify that only workers should be counted in the number of car passengers. The wording makes it clear that respondents should exclude any non-workers in the car.

According to the results of the 2019 Census Test, these revisions improved data quality. The minor wording changes were evaluated and indicated that comparability with previous cycles remained.

17. Expenditures

The questions on child care expenditures and child or spousal support payments have been included on census questionnaires since 2011 and support the production of low-income statistics based on the Market Basket Measure (MBM). The Government of Canada announced its Poverty Reduction Strategy in August 2018 and made the MBM Canada’s official measure of poverty. Having these questions on the census enables MBM statistics to be calculated in great geographic detail every five years.

The expenditures content of the 2021 Census will be similar to the 2016 content.

18. Housing

The housing questions provide information on the housing stock in Canada. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is a key user of this information. CMHC supports activities related to the National Housing Act and other housing-related programs. The Government of Canada, in collaboration with CMHC and as part of the National Housing Strategy, makes significant investments to address housing needs in Canada. It has earmarked more than $55 billion over 10 years to build stronger communities and help Canadians across the country access safe, affordable homes. IRCC uses this information to assess immigrant communities’ integration into Canada and housing affordability for immigrant families.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) uses census housing data to gain insights into housing needs and trends over time, assess the effectiveness of its programs; project future housing demands; assess the cost implications of housing problems now and into the future; and inform overall planning, accountability and monitoring activities. The housing questions are one of the four components of the Community Well-Being index, a critical indicator tool devised by ISC to monitor well-being trends in First Nations, Inuit and non-Indigenous communities. Measuring shelter costs and affordability for all housing on reserves and in northern communities is of particular importance.

Housing information is also used in conjunction with Ontario’s Housing Services Act, 2011 and New Brunswick’s Community Planning Act (section 77). Governments use this information to measure levels of crowding in dwellings and develop housing programs. Information on the age of dwellings and the need for repairs is used by municipalities to develop neighbourhood improvement programs. These data—in conjunction with data on other census topics such as Indigenous peoples and income—are used to establish affordable, suitable and adequate housing targets and evaluate housing needs. The information on housing and shelter costs is also used for urban and regional planning, for housing strategies, and for outreach and emergency shelter programs. Data obtained from these are also used to derive shelter costs to calculate the shelter cost component of the MBM thresholds.

The housing content of the 2021 Census will include new and revised content returning from 2016.

New housing content

Shelter costs—band housing (Form 2A-R)

Form 2A-R is used in northern, remote and reserve areas only. It contains the census questionnaire content with examples adapted for remote regions and First Nations communities. In 2016, there was an additional question on band housing. For the 2021 Census, the 2A-R questionnaire will include a new question on user or occupancy fees on reserves.

For 2016, complete shelter costs were collected only for owner and renter households. Regular use or occupancy fees that are equivalent to rent (for renters) or mortgage payments and property taxes (for owners) were not collected for those living in band housing. Housing affordability research could not be conducted for on-reserve populations and households. However, the enhancements made to the 2A-R questionnaire for 2021 will make it possible for this research to be conducted moving forward.

Through discussions held with ISC, CMHC and Indigenous Liaison Advisors, Statistics Canada identified the need for this data gap to be addressed. The question was developed and refined through qualitative testing, which showed that respondents understood the question well.

Housing content returning from 2016

For the 2021 Census paper questionnaire, the question on household maintainers—which identifies who in the household pays the rent or mortgage, taxes, electricity, etc.—will be moved from the household-level section to the person-level section, with a slight wording change, to match the layout of the online questionnaire.

According to the results of the 2019 Census Test, moving this question to the person-level section of the questionnaire results in more complete responses, including more frequent reporting of more than one individual in the household contributing to expenditures. This reflects a better understanding of the question.

The rest of the housing content of the 2021 Census is the same as the 2016 content.

New content tested but not included in the 2021 Census

Self-reported health

Statistics Canada tested a question on health status that asked “In general, would you say this person’s health is excellent/very good/good/fair/poor?” The 2019 Census Test applied these questions in a context that allowed a respondent to report on their perception of the health of others in the household.

Self-reported health is highly correlated with a person’s actual health and can be used as a predictor of morbidity, mortality and service needs. Including this question on the census questionnaire could have provided information about vulnerable subpopulations—such as Indigenous peoples, immigrants, youth and the elderly—at detailed levels of geography. It is generally challenging for surveys to profile the health of subpopulations at detailed levels of geography.

As part of the census dissemination plan, the planned objective was to use the census health question as an official indicator to inform various stakeholders and partners on the health status of various subpopulations for different levels of geography.

2019 Census Test results

The test results for the general health question were compared with those of the 2018 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) and the 2016/2017 Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS). The 2019 Census Test distributions of the general health question were comparable to those of the CCHS and CHMS when the health response categories were split into two dichotomous groups (i.e., excellent/very good/good and fair/poor). These are the groupings typically used for analysis and modelling.

While the health status question worked well as a dichotomous variable and addressed stakeholder needs, it was shown to have an impact on the subsequent activities of daily living (ADL) content. The health question was asked before the ADL questions on the 2019 Census Test, resulting in more respondents reporting an activity limitation, thereby increasing the number of people in-scope for the postcensal Canadian Survey on Disability (CSD). Because the CSD survey frame is built using a group of people with different characteristics compared with its previous cycle, the 2022 CSD may not be comparable with the 2017 CSD. Statistics Canada conducted analyses on how to mitigate the potential effects on the CSD. Although there were options available to reduce the impact on historical comparability, it was not possible to estimate the degree to which the impact would be mitigated by any of these options, nor could comparability be guaranteed.

ESDC has an existing legislative mandate by which the comparability of the ADL questions is critical, whereas there is currently no legislative requirement for a general health question. Because of the significant impact on the performance of the ADL questions, as well as the need for comparable data for the CSD, a health status question was not proposed for the 2021 Census.


New questions on a respondent’s most recent credential and the associated field of study, location of study and year of completion, and digital skills learned during the completion of their most recent credential were tested. An expanded list of educational credentials, including college bachelor’s degrees and college graduate or postgraduate certificates, was also tested, as were changes to the terminology used for other educational credentials.

There were data quality concerns for the questions with the expanded list of educational credentials. For example, qualitative and quantitative tests both indicated that many respondents were unfamiliar with college bachelor’s degrees and college postgraduate certificates. This resulted in response errors, with university bachelor’s degrees and college certificates or diplomas (other than college postgraduate certificates) being commonly reported in these categories.

The new questions on most recent credential did not perform well in the quantitative test. Response rates were low for these questions on the paper questionnaire and there was evidence of response error on both the online and paper questionnaires. For example, the proportion of respondents with credentials more recent than their highest credential did not align with the information from other data sources. The data for the new questions on year of completion and digital skills were consistent with other variables, but adding the question to the census as tested would have required the question on most recent credential to be included as well.

According to the census test results, these questions were not proposed for the 2021 Census. Data on bachelor’s degrees and postgraduate certificates from public Canadian colleges and information on most recent credential can be obtained from the Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Platform.


A new question on the main reason for not looking for paid work was tested. This question was not proposed for the 2021 Census for two main reasons: a similar question is asked in the monthly LFS, and the benefit of including it on the census was not deemed to be greater than the associated response burden.

A new question on the main reason for working (for those aged 60 and older) was also tested. This question was not proposed for the 2021 Census because it appears to have a seasonal component. Because a similar version of this question was recently added to the LFS and because the LFS is collected monthly, the LFS results will be more interpretable.

Place where commute starts

A new question was tested to capture a supplementary address for commute to work. This was for individuals whose commute does not start from their principal residence and gives them the opportunity to identify another location. However, the new supplementary address question did not work as intended.

Nearly half of the addresses provided were the same as the individual’s place of work address, which had already been reported in a previous question. This reflects a general misunderstanding of the new question.

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